She calls out to the man on the street
Sir, can you help me?
It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep
Is there somewhere you can tell me?
He walks on, doesn’t look back
He pretends he can’t hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there
Oh, think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh, think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you, you and me in paradise
Another Day in Paradise – Phil Collins
Hesed is the Hebrew word for “help or unfailing kindness to the helpless.”1 It is exemplified by God’s people in many places in the Old Testament; Elijah and Elisha for example (1 Kings 17:7-16, 2 Kings 4: 1-7), and in countless instances by Jesus in the New Testament. It is what gripped the heart of the singer-songwriter, Phil Collins, who wrote Another Day in Paradise to highlight the plight of the homeless. Collins was criticized because of his wealth, which his critics thought disqualified him to write about the homeless. But Collins shot back, “When I drive down the street, I see the same things everyone else sees. It’s a misconception that if you have a lot of money you’re somehow out of touch with reality.”2
Do we see “the same thing everyone else sees?”
The exercise of hesed requires faith, sacrifice, and commitment. As educators, we have a wonderful opportunity to practice hesed towards our students as well as others, including strangers. It is an intrinsic part of the Imago Dei.
In the Book of Ruth, we see a wonderful picture of God’s providential outpouring of hesed through several individuals. The book of Ruth tells the story of an Ephrathite couple, Elimelech and Naomi, their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, and their Moabite wives, Ruth and Orpah. It occurs during the time of the Judges. There is a famine in Israel which has been exacerbated by oppressors who have plundered Israel’s grain. Elimelech and Naomi travel to Moab to find food. There, their two sons marry Moabite wives, but Elimelech dies and Naomi becomes a widow. Thereafter, Naomi’s two sons also die and she becomes a childless widow with two widowed daughters-in-law, and no male to protect and provide. The situation—emotionally, socially, spiritually, and economically—was dire. The three women begin the trek back to Bethlehem. Orpah decides to return to Moab. Ruth, however, in a display of hesed, commits by faith to stay with Naomi. When the two widows arrive in Bethlehem, Boaz, a near kin of Elimelech, demonstrates hesed to Ruth by offering her grain from his fields. He ultimately becomes her kinsman redeemer, marrying her. Their son, Obed “[is] the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17).
Ruth demonstrated hesed to Naomi by faith, “your God will be my God,” by sacrifice, she left her home in Moab, and by commitment, “where you go, I will go” (Ruth 1:17). Likewise, Boaz, by faith, sacrifice and commitment, fulfilled the responsibility of kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 4:13), ensuring the continuation of the chosen line from the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).
Christians are commanded to practice hesed; “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov. 31:8-9).”
As God’s image bearers, “[We] are the creature through whom God’s plans and purposes can be made known and actualized.”3
As educators in Christian institutions of higher learning, we have many opportunities to demonstrate hesed to our students. Some are simply due to our position; our syllabi are required to list office hours, we are assigned advisees, we are expected to offer students guidance with their degree plans and their future careers, and maybe we feel called to mentor some. But, isn’t this our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1)?
Hesed demands living beyond ourselves, exemplifying the Imago Dei.
I would like to offer additional suggestions for giving the gift of hesed, culled from actual experiences during my time in academia. Not only do they demonstrate hesed to students but in front of students. They are therefore didactic as well as being sacrificial, requiring faith that, in some cases, pulled me outside of my comfort zone.
- Be flexible. When a student faces a challenge, which can be anything from a flat tire causing them to be late for class, missing an exam, to the death of a parent (real incidents that actually happened to two of my students in one semester), my ministry shifts from teaching chemistry to becoming in loco parentis by exhibiting mercy, grace, and hesed. Life happens. Your class is a means, not an end.
- Be merciful. GenZ-ers are struggling with a basket of emotions. I have had students that were borderline failing a class as a result of breakups, physical challenges, estrangement from parents, and anxiety or depression. I allowed them to complete coursework after the class had officially ended. Since the students completed the work, albeit late, I did not regard this accommodation as a compromise of academic integrity, and I passed them.
- Lead by example. The next time the opportunity to donate blood comes to your campus, encourage your students to roll up their sleeves and you be the first in line. Your blood can literally save someone’s life. And it is the ultimate example of hesed; Jesus shed his blood on the cross so that we might live.
- Stretch your faith. As a former newspaper columnist and features writer, I was the only regular faith-based voice on the Op-ed page in several New Jersey newspapers. I had a strong, pro-life position that was supported not just by my words but by example: We adopted twice from China.4
- Risk your life When Covid-19 was ravaging through families in 2020, I joined a phase three clinical trial to expedite the approval of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine.5 Writing in Foreign Policy, Lyman Stone explains, “The Christian response to plagues begins with some of Jesus’ most famous teachings: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’; ‘Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.’ Put plainly, the Christian ethic in a time of plague considers that our own life must always be regarded as less important than that of our neighbor.”6
Remember that Ruth was poor, widowed, and childless. Tradition tells us she was the daughter of Eglon, the king of Moab, the enemies of Israel.7 An unlikely candidate, she became an integral part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5) because of the providence of Yahweh and the unfailing kindness—the hesed—of the people that surrounded her who were willing to live by faith, commitment, and sacrifice.
Who knows? God may use you to become someone’s miracle by giving the gift of hesed.
- Bruce Waltke, Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, 850, 853.
- “Another Day in Paradise”. Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 26 July 2014.
- Christianity.com Editorial Staff, What Does ‘Imago Dei’ Mean? The Image of God in the Bible, Christianity.com, June 25, 2019.
- Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life, Thomas Nelson, 2010, 6. “There are 145 million orphans worldwide. Nearly 236 million people in the United States call themselves Christians. From a purely statistical viewpoint, American Christians by themselves have the wherewithal to house every orphan in the world.”
- Gregory J. Rummo, Faith and science both called me to participate in vaccine trials, Sun Sentinel, Sep. 14, 2022.
- Lyman Stone, Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/
- Mark Robinson, Ruth and Boaz, the Story of the Kinsman-Redeemer, Israel My Glory
“Hesed” reminds of humility, in the latter’s most Biblical sense:
Only one definition has it right, based on the examples of Christ, Paul, Nehemiah, etc.:
“the union of highest self-respect with uttermost abandon of sacrifice in service.”(Source: Hastings Dictionary of the Bible)
It is not to regard oneself as a doormat but to use one’s position and talents to serve others. It is to live a “God and others’-centered” life.